Three Layer Vanilla Cake Recipe

A show-stopping triple-tiered cake is easier to accomplish than you think in this straight-forward vanilla buttercream rendition.
Photo by Farideh Sadeghin

Servings: a crowd
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 3 hours


for the cake: 
7 ⅓ cups|993 grams cake flour 
4 teaspoons baking powder 
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
4 cups|813 grams granulated sugar 
3 cups|680 grams salted butter, softened 
2 tablespoons vanilla extract 
6 large eggs plus 3 large egg whites 
3 cups|710 ml buttermilk 

for the frosting: 
4 cups|920 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature 
2 tablespoons vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
14 cups|1 kilogram 494 grams confectioners’ sugar 
6 tablespoons|90 ml heavy cream 
food coloring, optional 

to bake and build the cake: 
2 (8-inch-by-2-inch) cake pans
2 (6-inch-by-2-inch) cake pans 
2 (4-inch-by-2-inch) cake pans 
1 large knife or cake leveler 
1 (10-inch) cake board or cake stand 
cake dowels
offset spatula 
icing bags and tips 


  1. Make the cakes: Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two (8-inch-by-2-inch) cake pans, two (6-inch-by-2-inch) cake pans, and two (4-inch-by-2-inch) cake pans  with butter and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter together until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, whole eggs, and egg whites and continue beating until combined, about 2 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and whisk in the dry ingredients until just combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the buttermilk, taking care to get rid of any lumps at the bottom of the bowl. 
  3. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cakes are baked through and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Check on them at the 20 minute mark, as they will bake at different rates. Cool completely. 
  4. Make the frosting: In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla and salt, then slowly add the confectioners’ sugar one cup at a time. (You may want to cover your bowl to prevent sugar clouds!) After you have added 4 cups, mix in 3 tablespoons of the heavy cream. Continue to add sugar until 7 cups are combined, then repeat with the remaining sugar and cream. If the frosting is too thick, add in additional cream one tablespoon at a time. If the frosting is too thin, add more powdered sugar. Mix until the desired consistency is reached. Add food coloring to the frosting, if desired. (To make this recipe vegan, substitute the same amount of unsalted butter for vegan butter and soy milk for the heavy cream.) 
  5. Assemble and decorate the cake: Using a large knife or cake leveler, cut any overflow off the cakes so that their tops and bottoms are completely flat and ready for stacking. Place a cake board or cake stand on a turntable or a flat, level surface. Carefully position the first bottom layer (8-inch-by-2-inch cake) on the center of the board. Cover this layer with a nice, even layer of frosting. Carefully place the second 8-inch-by-2-inch cake on it. Cover that layer with another layer of frosting, and your base tier is complete! 
  6. Next, add the cake dowels to support the weight of the incoming tier to prevent caving. Ensure that the dowels are the same height as the top of the second cake. If they are not, cut them with a pair of scissors. Place 5 dowels in total in the bottom tier: one in the middle, 4 in the corners, like the number 5 on a die. 
  7. Place the first 6-inch-by-4-inch cake on the base tier and add a layer of frosting. Cover this with the second 6-inch-by-4-inch layer, then cover with frosting. Add 3 to 5 cake dowels to support the middle tier. Ensure they are the same height as the top of the middle tier (approximately 8 inches tall). 
  8. Finally, add the two 4-inch-by-4-inch layers with a layer of frosting in between. At this point the cake should be perfectly stacked and centered. 
  9. Decorate the cake: Add the largest, flattest icing tip (such as Wilton Cake Icer Decorator Tip #789) to a large pastry bag. Fill the bag with frosting and, starting with the bottom tier, cover the sides with a thick, even layer of frosting. (Because the frosting is a crusting buttercream, you should give this layer a couple of minutes to thicken. You can move onto icing the sides of the middle and top tiers before returning to the bottom tier.) 
  10. Once all of the sides have been frosted, use an offset spatula to smooth them out and spread the rest of the frosting evenly to cover the outside of the cake. Decorate with the tips and colors of your choice. 

Get recipes like this and more in the Munchies Recipes newsletter. Sign up here.

This is part of a special series, 
Indulgence, which explores extravagant living in a time of restraint. It’s also in the September 2021 VICE magazine issue. Subscribe here.